I was hacked!
Yes, someone got into my e-mail account, used my address and password and then proceeded to send everyone in my contact list an urgent plea to send money ($1,500) to London, since I was supposedly stranded there without a wallet or credit cards.
I didn't know I was in London.
Being hacked can only be likened to what people must feel coming home to find their house burglarized -- possessions strewn about and personal items scrutinized by unknown eyes and hands.
After the shock, the expletives and the hassle of trying to get everything back (contact lists, folders and current mail) a stunning revelation hit me when the phone calls started pouring in.
I felt like George Bailey in "It's A Wonderful Life." I had lots of friends and family who really care for me. No, they did not send money, and for this I am truly thankful. Instead, they contacted me to make sure it was indeed a hoax and to be sure I was all right.
And what friends I have.
True friends like the fine woman I work with in a church program, who asked my wife if everything was OK, and if I needed money; and the manager of the restaurant where I go every Saturday for coffee with my "sports talk" buddies, who left a message of concern.
The network of high school and college friends really came through when they were assured that my alleged plight was simply just not so.
From the bake sale in Buffalo that "raised $5.81 so far" to the fund-raiser in Biloxi, Miss., that netted "a $10 pledge from a local Girl Scout troop," I was awash in reassuring relief efforts.
Another so-called friend in Alabama told me he had smashed his loose change bottle and collected a whopping $1.99 that he was going to send to my wife. My coffee buddy said he found a dime outside the restaurant and I could have it. I even got an offer of a free piano lesson from my friend in Los Angles. I just had to get out there to collect.
I fully expected to see people coming up my driveway with baskets full of money saying they "heard Steve was in trouble!" When would Mr. Martini show up with the jukebox money?
Jimmy Stewart's smile had nothing on mine. The humor eased the distress of the situation and made me focus on what was really important.
In discussions since, many people have mused about how dangerous the Internet is, and how much better off we would be without it. My intelligent wife, however, keeps reminding me that before the Internet it was telephone scams and before that it was the mail. How about a door-to-door salesman selling some swamp land in Florida?
It seems like there will never be a short supply of the lowest kind of people who will try their hardest to take what is simply not theirs. They will keep coming up with new ways to scam and cheat their way through life.
But the luckiest of us have a cushion of people around who are not cheats and scam artists. We have friends who care. And that can never be cheated out of you.
"No man is a failure who has friends," Clarence the Angel wrote to George in the front cover of the Tom Sawyer book.
My own Clarence, who in this case was a hacker and certainly not an angel, reminded me of that.